I always feel like I'm cheating when I review the individual books of an omnibus separately. My mind has a deep conviction that if a work is bound in one cover, it's one book, and to treat it as multiple books isn't quite kosher. But then, why should I let the vagaries of the publishing industry affect how a book is defined? Would someone who read The Dying Earth in 1953 have considered it merely the first fourth of an eventual omnibus? They would not.
The thing is, though, someone who read Elizabeth Moon's Sheepfarmer's Daughter very well might have thought of it as the first third of The Deed of Paksenarrion, so it's a bit of a different case. But if I can't quite justify reviewing this separately from the completed trilogy on principled grounds, I can easily do so on pragmatic ones: I don't want to leave my poor booklog unattended for as long as it'll take me to get through the whole thing.
So, then. After finishing up all that Vance, I was in the mood for something familiar, down-to-earth, and comfortable; this hit the spot nicely.
The story begins with Paksenarrion, the titular sheepfarmer's daughter, running away from home so that she can join a mercenary company rather than get married, so right away we know we're in the familiar Plucky Female Heroine Who Doesn't Wear Dresses And Ride Sidesaddle zone. She meets up with the company, goes through the requisite training scenes where she realizes that she's still got a lot to learn, but she's got pluck, determination, and fortitude. Once that's done, the company leaves the hardy north to fight in the decadent warring kingdoms of the south, where the primary action of the book takes place.
Will Paksenarrion become a hero? Will a corrupt bad guy receive his just desserts? I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just give a little hint: Yes.
Despite my somewhat sarcastic rendition of the plot, this is actually a very enjoyable book. It's not at all free from cliche, but that was the whole point of picking it up in the first place. It's my firm belief that there's nothing inherently bad about using familiar tropes, and that what ultimately matters is how well and interestingly they're handled. Moon handles them reasonably well, and adds the mercenary company twist to things, which makes the book feel different from a standard quest novel.
My main complaint with this book, actually, is that it was very leisurely and unhurriedly paced; a lot of unimportant details take up a lot of time, making the book longer than the strict requirements of plot would dictate. But I have a Theory about that, too, which I will expound when I write up the third book.
Yes, that's right: I'm ending this review with a teaser for a future review. That's the kind of untrammelled recklessness you can only get here at Weasel Words. Well, or on your local news. ("Is your book killing you? Tune in at 11 to find out.")